Nebraska state senators listen to Speaker of the Legislature John Arch as he gives an announcement from the legislative floor.
Members of the Nebraska Legislature listen to an announcement from Speaker John Arch of La Vista on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Lincoln. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

In the second week of the Nebraska Legislature’s 2023 session, state senators approved committee assignments, began considering dozens of procedural changes and previewed how abortion will define much of the session.

Senators introduced 319 bills and 12 resolutions or constitutional amendments during the second week and have two more days, Jan. 17-18, to introduce more. After that, senators will transition to hearings for each bill. 

Abortion battle begins to take shape

State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston and nearly 30 of her colleagues announced on Wednesday, Jan. 11, two bills that would reduce the period allowed for abortions in the state.

While neither bill has been formally introduced yet, Albrecht said the Nebraska Heartbeat Act and Nebraska Pregnancy Help Act would significantly reduce abortions. Currently, abortions are allowed up to about 20 weeks, but the “heartbeat” bill would reduce this to around six weeks when abortion opponents say a fetal heartbeat.

This approximately six-week point is when sporadic electrical impulses that make rhythmic pulses — like a heartbeat — can be detected by an ultrasound.

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State senators gather in the Nebraska State Capitol for a news conference announcing bills to further restrict abortion in the state on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023, in Lincoln. Half of those senators in attendance — totaling nearly 30 — are pictured here. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)

Should the bill pass, Albrecht said doctors who performed abortions after that point could have their licenses put under review and revoked; women seeking abortions would not face penalties.

The Nebraska Pregnancy Help Act would offer tax credits to incentivize private donations in support of more than 20 pregnancy help organizations statewide.

State Sens. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, George Dungan of Lincoln and Megan Hunt of Omaha swiftly condemned the proposed ban and said the restrictions would fall disproportionately on women of color and women who are low-income or from rural parts of the state.

The senators argue it’s too early to start counting votes. Hunt and Conrad introduced three constitutional amendments to protect abortion access and prevent future restrictions.

Read more from the Nebraska News Service here.

Rules proposals could change key functions of Legislature

The Nebraska Legislature’s Rules Committee considered 58 proposed procedural changes on Thursday, Jan. 12, for nearly 9 hours that could critically change how the body functions.

Led by State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, the committee chair, the Rules Committee will meet early in the Legislature’s third week to decide which proposals to advance. The full will then vote on which proposals to adopt.

These proposals included: 

  • Allowing companion animals for senators in their legislative offices;
  • Requiring at least 25 senators to be on the legislative floor at all times;
  • Restricting senators to only 12 bills per session, instead of an unlimited amount;
  • Requiring senators to take a position on votes, removing the option to vote present; 
  • Posting video recordings of hearings and floor debate on the Legislature’s website within one week; and
  • Increasing the number of votes required to pull bills from committees to the floor.

Read more on the proposals from the Nebraska News Service, and catch up on the hearing from the Unicameral Update.

Committee assignments finalized after “partisan” allegations

After allegations of partisan mishandling of committee assignments in the Nebraska Legislature, senators officially have their positions.

The debate ended on the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 9, with senators voting 40-7 to approve the assignments. State Sens. John Cavanaugh of Omaha, Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, Megan Hunt of Omaha, Terrell McKinney of Omaha, Jane Raybould of Lincoln and Lynne Walz of Fremont voted against approval.

State Sens. Carol Blood of Bellevue and Myron Dorn of Adams were excused and not voting.

The approved list of committee assignments is available here.

Nebraska law requires every legislative bill — and legislative resolutions that are constitutional amendments or that require policy action — to receive a hearing. These will begin on Monday, Jan. 23.

Read more on each committee chair from the Nebraska News Service here.

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Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature Brandon Metzler reads a list of introduced legislation to state senators on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Lincoln. (Nebraska News Service Photo/Zach Wendling)
Week two bill introductions

Here is a sample of the 319 bills and 12 resolutions introduced during the second week, bringing the total after eight legislative days to 464 bills and 26 resolutions. There are two more days of bill introductions.

The full list of introduced legislation can be found here.

LB188 by State Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair would allow the Nebraska commissioner of education to issue temporary teaching certificates for veterans who meet specific criteria. There are four cosponsors so far.

LB194 by State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings and 21 others would adopt the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which states the Second Amendment “is a fundamental individual right that shall not be infringed” and provides direction on how the state should address federal firearms policies.

LB201 by State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha would require high school students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to graduation, except under select circumstances. 

Multiple election-related bills were introduced in the second week.

  • LB228 by State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard and State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings would establish state holidays for primary and general election dates, require in-person voting and restrict the counting of ballots to only election day at the precinct level. Military or those in nursing homes would be allowed to vote by mail. 
  • LB230 by Erdman would establish voter ID, require in-person voting, add penalties for violating such policies and eliminate certain fees for state ID cards or official copies of voters’ birth certificates, for the purposes of voting.
  • LB364 and LB365 by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha would, respectively, allow the election of election commissioners and authorize each commissioner or county clerk to apply for their elections to be held by mail.
  • LB390 by State Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood and 10 others would change the window at which early voting ballots are sent to voters from at least 35 days to not more than 30. The legislation would also change appointed agents’ responsibilities for voting.
  • LB457 by State Sen. Rick Holdcroft of Bellevue and five others would require video surveillance of ballots in polling places from when it is handed to the voter until sealed for vote counting. The bill would also establish serialized numbers and multiple other requirements for official ballots.

LB254 by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon would provide for a digital archive of the Legislature be maintained by the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications Commission not to be used for political or commercial purposes. State Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City is a cosponsor.

LB314 by State Sens. John Fredrickson of Omaha and Tom Brewer of Gordon would require that firearm dealers would need to provide information on suicide prevention, including on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Training requirements for handgun training and safety courses would include suicide prevention training. State Sen. Jana Hughes of Seward also joined the bill.

LB371 by State Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil and eight others would prohibit people younger than 19 from attending drag shows, or those under 21 if a show venue includes alcohol, with the following penalties:

  • A person who knowingly brings someone younger would be guilty of a Class I misdemeanor, and
  • Businesses, establishments or nonprofits that host drag shows with minors in attendance would be fined $10,000 for each violation; the officers or owners of these places would also be guilty of a Class I misdemeanor.

Multiple bills would expand nondiscrimination for LGBTQ Nebraskans and change provisions related to marriage.

  • LB169 by State Sens. Megan Hunt and John Fredrickson, both of Omaha, would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • LB179 by Fredrickson and Hunt would prohibit conversion therapy.
  • LB316 by Fredrickson would clarify and make gender-neutral certain terminology related to marriage. On applications, licenses and certificates, individuals would be denoted as Spouse 1 and Spouse 2.
  • LR26CA by State Sens. Jen Day, John Cavanaugh, Machaela Cavanaugh, Fredrickson and Hunt (all of Omaha) would remove provisions regarding marriage from Nebraska’s Constitution.

LR17CA by State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha would eliminate the death penalty and commute death sentences to life in prison.

LR18CA and LR19CA by State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha would protect abortion access and prohibit future restrictions. LR20CA by State Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, Hunt and State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha would enshrine in the Nebraska Constitution a right to individual privacy. 

LB391 by State Sen. Jen Day of Omaha would allow criminal and civil immunity for pregnancy outcomes, including stillbirth or miscarriage, the intentional termination of pregnancy or any other outcome that does not result in a live birth.

LR22CA by State Sen. Robert Dover of Norfolk and 39 others would allow state senators to serve three four-year terms before being term-limited, instead of two.

LR24CA by State Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston would eliminate the State Board of Education and allow the governor to appoint Nebraska’s commissioner of education instead.

Any constitutional amendments introduced need to be approved by the Legislature to be placed on the 2024 general election ballot.

Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.